Brand’s cell phone rang as he pulled up to his first destination, a bar named Kick. The biker hangout wasn’t far from the factory where the dead woman had been found. One of the less appealing areas of the city, the street outside was almost empty at dusk. Erik’s office number showed on the display. Unsurprisingly, Bera had called him and explained what Brand had in mind when he found Arn.
Erik didn’t wait for a greeting. “You can’t just kill him.”
The ache of fury that had been building in his chest made Brand snarl. “I can and I will. It should have been done a long time ago.”
“You gave up the right to make those decisions. It has to be put to a Conclave.”
Brand struggled to contain the shout that wanted to burst from him. He should be searching, not arguing bureaucracy with Erik. “No matter what he does, a Conclave won’t rule against Arn. Björnkarl will bully the other earls to get his way.”
“I’m glad you think so much of my backbone.” The sardonic sneer Erik wore was obvious, even over the phone.
“You won’t receive a summons to any Conclave Björn calls. He’s still angry you stole and defiled his daughter.”
The sound over the line distorted as Erik spat out a long Norse curse. When he stopped for a breath, Brand responded. “Do you really think you’ll upset me by insulting my lineage? I’m the first to admit my sire was a lecherous goat.”
Erik laughed briefly, then continued in a serious tone. “If you do this you’re going to spend the next hundred years running.”
Brand had no intention of running from Björn, or anyone else. “I’ll do what I have to do to make sure Alice is safe.”
* * *
Brand scanned the dim interior of the bar. He avoided these places when he could. The heightened emotions of so many in so tight an area strained his barriers to their limits. Kick was a well-known brood hangout, but the only patrons were a few humans in black leather huddled around pool tables.
He spotted the female he was looking for across the room. As she leaned over to clean a table, her familiar backside moved with a rhythmic shake to the beat of the loud music. As she bent and stood on her toes to reach the far end, her short skirt displayed an obscene amount of thigh.
Sigga must have felt his stare, because she stopped moving abruptly. She turned to look over her shoulder at him, her pink hair falling to obscure part of her face. She dropped the washcloth and hurried across the empty dance floor, a smile curling her lips. When she stood in front of him, she said, “Is there something I can help you with, my lord?”
“You can start by not calling me that.” He clamped his jaw shut, despising himself for snapping at her.
“I meant no offense.” She dropped her gaze and bowed her head. When she straightened again and met his eyes, her desire cascaded over him and overran his barriers.
He closed the distance between them. No longer buffered, her lust surged through his body, making his skin tingle. The wolf inside him strained for control, amplifying his emotions.
He imagined parting her unresisting thighs, lifting her skirt until she was revealed to him, tearing open her shirt, and pushing her back to sink his teeth into the creamy skin of her breast. He could almost taste her blood on his tongue, a heady combination of minerals and her essence.
That thought brought him back from the near trance her emotions had driven him to. He craved violence and the last thing he wanted was to hurt her. Curling his hands into fists, he drove his nails into his palms until the pain brought clarity. “I’m looking for one of us, a big male with red hair. I doubt he’d take the time to introduce himself.”
Sigga blinked several times. The haze of desire gradually lifted from her features. After a few moments, she shook herself. “I haven’t seen anyone like that.”
As her scent crept toward the normal end of the spectrum, Brand relaxed. He resisted the temptation to push a lock of hair away from her left eye. “There’s a male from your brood by the name of Lucas, have you seen him?”
Her brightly painted lips compressed in thought for a few seconds. “He usually comes in here a lot, but I haven’t seen him since the last full. He hasn’t been at the brood runs either.”
Brand nodded. “Call me if you see either of them.” Worried that she might try to approach Arn, he added, “And don’t talk to the redhead, he’s dangerous.”
“Like you?” An impish grin made her dimples stand out.
“No,” he grumbled. “He’ll hurt you.”
Her grin faded into a more sultry smile. “I like that you worry about me.”
He reached to touch her cheek, but stopped short. The desire she felt for him permeated his fingers even without the contact. Months ago, he’d decided attraction wasn’t enough. A sense of warmth he craved was missing between them and he refused to keep using her, comforting as it could be. He lowered his hand and turned away.
* * *
Brand examined the door of Lucas’s apartment. After spending most of the night cruising seedy bars in the worst areas of Denver, he needed a break and the address had been nearby. No one had broken in as far as he could tell. He had no idea how to pick a lock, so he forced the door open with brute strength. He’d pay for a new one if Lucas ever returned.
The air in the apartment was stale, indicating the place had been unoccupied for some time. He inhaled, letting the odors settle into him as he cataloged them—dirty laundry, rotting food, old dust. He picked up a male scent that was undoubtedly Lucas and committed it to memory. A handful of human female smells drifted through, all transient visitors by the lack of depth.
He looked through Lucas’s apartment for several minutes, but didn’t see anything that struck him as unusual. Though difficult to say for sure, given the level of disorder, nothing looked out of place. He came across a pile of coasters with numbers scribbled on them from several area bars; all had female names associated with them. He used a finger to scan through the collection, noting the names of the places Lucas frequented. His luck with women emphasized the point that Erik had suggested; Lucas probably wasn’t aggressive.
Brand was tempted to believe that the young male, bored of the Denver scene, had moved off on his own. One fact made that conclusion difficult to believe, though. All of his clothes and personal items remained in the apartment. From what Brand could tell, nothing had been packed. If Lucas had left of his own accord, he’d taken nothing with him.
After four more hours of searching dark bars overrun with longing, Brand fell into his bed near three in the morning frustrated and exhausted. He never caught sight of Arn or spoke to anyone who’d seen him.
Shortly after midnight the next night, the forty-eight-hour full-moon period would begin. Emotions, already almost overwhelming in his kind, peaked with the moon. There would no doubt be another body if he didn’t find Arn before then, and the idea that he would fail another female the same way he’d failed his mother kept him awake, staring at the ceiling, for a long while before sleep overtook him.
* * *
Alice’s stomach clenched when she reached her car. A familiar, rising whisper of violence filled the night. She tried three times before she managed to push the small button on her remote. The chirp of her car locking comforted her, though the implied safety was an illusion. Arn could force his way inside her car with little effort and he was close. Her only hope was that he might not know exactly where she was, yet.
She pulled out her phone to call Brand, and while trying to open it she dropped it. Nearly breathless with panic, she bent over to search the bottom of the car under her feet. Just as her hand caught hold of the plastic case, darkness obscured the streetlight that shone in her window.
Alice looked up into the shadowed face that had haunted every day of her life since he bought her more than two hundred years ago. He was every bit as cruel and huge as he was in her nightmares. She couldn’t contain the scream that tore from her throat.
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